Many who look for an escape from the winter months look to South-East Asia for a tropical getaway, and for good reason! The temperate, mild weather and sunny white sand beaches are perfect for escaping the wet and cold.
I have traveled many-a-times to this wonderful tropical archipelago, where the days are warm and nights, cool, and where almost every day is a perfect beach day.
The Philippines play host to over 7000 islands, and with such land mass available there is definitely something for everyone!
Let me take you through the awesome experience that is my homeland, and begin to explore some places to visit in the Philippines!
There is no better place to begin than Palawan, one of the places that, even as a local, has me in awe of its natural beauty. Palawan has won plaudits worldwide, including as recent as this month, where it was voted ‘Most Beautiful Island in the World’ by prestigious ‘Travel + Leisure’ magazine (with two more entries in the top 10 also in the Philippines).
It is not difficult to see why it is so highly rated, as there is a multitude of things for you to do once you arrive! Whether you’d prefer to island hop amongst the untouched, uninhibited islands, scuba dive in the world famous Tubbataha reef, or just relax on one of Palawan’s pristine beaches, sipping on an ice-cool cocktail, it is all there for you to explore and conquer.
Palawan is also home to the world’s longest, and arguably most beautiful, navigable underground river, which pretty much sums up the island for any traveler. If what you are looking for is the perfect blend of civilization, luxury, and wilderness, Palawan is the place for you! After all, it is not nicknamed a ‘City in a Forest’ for no reason!
The multitude of perfect little islands can make it confusing when it comes time to pick one to explore, so let me show you where to begin! Introducing Bantayan, an island located at the northern tip of Cebu. It is probably the best place for you to find a nice accommodation, locate one of its many white sand beaches, and just kick back and relax.
Its main island, Bantayan Island, has everything you need as a tourist to the area. World-class accommodation? Check. Natural caves to explore? Check. Clean beaches? Check. Age-old churches to visit? Check. There are also a whole bunch of islands within this ‘Bantayan group of islands’ (common throughout the country) which are just waiting to be explored.
Unfortunately, in November of 2013, super typhoon Yolanda ravaged the stunning shores of Bantayan, destroying 90% of all the buildings and structures. Fortunately, in true Filipino fashion, you will see very little of the destruction, as locals and businesses alike have jumped right back on their feet and it is as beautiful as ever.
The Philippines is also a great ambassador of eco-tourism, and Bantayan embodies that spirit perfectly. There will not be many theme parks or swimming pools anywhere near the island anytime soon, with locals and foreigners alike preferring to enjoy the island as it is – a nature lover’s paradise. Live like the locals; go to Bantayan!
Surigao Del Sur (The Hinatuan (Enchanted) River and Tinuy-An Falls)
Most, if not all, people who know anything about the Philippines would have heard something about either of these two places and for good reason. Surigao del Sur, where they are located, is not as flashy as Manila or as tourist-oriented like Boracay, although it does have a unique access to some of the first settlers in the area.
What it lacks in energy and commercial pull, it more than makes up for in its picturesque nature.
Meet the Enchanted River, where the water is so blue and so clear that you can even see the bottom at its deepest chasm. Many fairytales and stories surround this crystal clear river, but one thing is for certain, that there is not a local that does not believe that, in some way, the river came about by some form of magic.
Travel about two hours and it will bring you to the Tinuy-An Falls, the ‘Niagara Falls of Asia’. This gorgeous four-tiered waterfall is one of the widest in the country, at 312 feet, so the similarity to its namesake is quite obvious. The main fall drops a spectacular 180 feet, and trust me, there is no photograph that manages to do the Tinuy-An Falls justice.
Looking for untouched, perfect scenery? Batanes is calling your name. Arrival on the island will have you in amazement as rolling green hills and a long, winding road lie in waiting. Today, Batanes does still carry remnants of its colonial past, with old Spanish churches and the old bridge a brief glimpse into the old Spanish rule.
Whether you choose to rent a bike to fly through this natural wonderland or to put on your hiking shoes and tramp, it is the naturally preserved beauty that is prevalent all throughout the island, from the sandy beaches to the old fishing villages. There is also a ZERO crime rate on the island, which is phenomenal, especially for your peace of mind!
Like all natural wonders, however, it is especially prone to the elements, and timing is truly everything when wanting to visit this island paradise. Make your plans to visit in the first half of the year, as while there are trips to be enjoyed in the second half, storms and the occasional typhoon are known to hit Batanes pretty hard.
What is unique about Batanes is the lack of high-end, luxury accommodations, meaning the corporate arm has not yet reached this neck of the woods. Most, if not all accommodation is found within the local communities, be it inns or homestays, meaning your trip to Batanes will be uniquely Filipino.
If you are short on time for your Filipino adventure, fret not, as Ilocos has the best the Philippines has to offer bundled up into one easy-access package! There is gorgeous food all over the place, zip lining is available at the Blue Lagoon, and there are still preserved remnants of its not-so-distant Spanish colonial past.
Ilocos is split up into two clear areas – Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte. Ilocos Sur is known for hosting the town of Vigan, a World Heritage Site that is the most intact example of a Spanish colonial town in all of Asia! Not only does it hold well-preserved old buildings and landmarks, there are also old Spanish churches still standing tall from the old days, and museums that offer a look into times past.
Ilocos Norte, however, is a whole other identity. It is a coastal province and sands of all colors can be found here, from the white sand of Pagudpud to the black sand of Laoag. Oddly enough, there are sand dunes in a small patch of desert that can be scaled and subsequently sand boarded down.
All in all, it is hard to say that Ilocos is not perfect for any traveler looking for a quick, yet equally beautiful, guide to the Philippines.
So there you have it, a quick-fire guide to some of the most stunning places my country has to offer. The obvious increase in foreign visitors does prove that the word is getting out there about the Philippines, but don’t take it from them (or me), come here and see for yourself!
If you enjoyed this article, please do let us know in the comments down below. Maybe you’ve been to some of these places, or you feel I missed out on something; either way, do feel free to tell me about it! Please share it if you know of someone this article could be useful to, help them find out why ‘it’s more fun in the Philippines’!